Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist, 2021: Wishlist and Predictions

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This year, I took a different approach to the Women’s Prize longlist, deciding that there’s no point me slogging through a lot of books I know I won’t like simply because they’ve been shortlisted for the Prize. Instead, I selected seven titles that I genuinely wanted to read. Unsurprisingly, this has led to a much better reading experience! I thought all the books I read were worthwhile and I only read one book that I don’t think deserves to advance to the shortlist. Here’s my ranking, with links to my reviews:

  1. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
  2. Consent by Annabel Lyon
  3. Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
  4. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
  5. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  6. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
  7. Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers

Because I’ve read less than half of this year’s longlist, it makes it difficult for me to judge how it compares to last year’s longlist. But my best guess is that it’s better; my top six books this year are stronger than my top six books from last year.

My shortlist wishlist is, therefore, pretty straightforward; just delete Small Pleasures and there you have it 🙂 However, what do I think will actually advance to the shortlist? Here are my predictions, in order of certainty:

  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
  • Luster by Raven Leilani
  • No-One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
  • Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

My reasoning: TBH I really am not sure this year. I am not going to match last year’s triumph when I predicted 5 out of 6 shortlistees! But here’s what I was thinking:

  • It would be great to see a more even representation of writers of colour on the shortlist after the uneven longlist, and I imagine this is what the judges are thinking too. The Vanishing Half and Transcendent Kingdom should be certs, and Luster seems to have a lot to offer as the only ‘dysfunctional women’ novel the judges have picked that focuses on a black woman.
  • I’ve stopped believing that the judges are going to pick one of each ‘category’ of books they like, so I’ve thrown in Patricia Lockwood’s No-One Is Talking About This as another hyper-contemporary novel!
  • I think that Evaristo, in particular, wants to champion older writers and older characters. At 54, Claire Fuller is hardly old, but I guessed that Unsettled Ground might tick off these criteria. Clare Chambers also does, but I hope that the problematic elements of Small Pleasures will make it a more controversial choice. Kathleen MacMahon’s Nothing But Blue Sky also fits the bill, but my experience is that longlisted books that nobody has heard of before rarely make the Women’s Prize shortlist.
  • I wasn’t sure what to add for my sixth pick, but I think Piranesi has an outside chance. Speculative fiction usually doesn’t make it from longlist to shortlist, but the judges this year seem to have a penchant for experimental narratives, and Piranesi is very timely in its consideration of themes of loneliness and isolation.
  • As you can see from my ranking, I’d love to see Torrey Peters’s Detransition, Baby make the shortlist, but unfortunately I fear that the Prize will shy away from controversy and not shortlist this book. On the other hand, I imagine that accusations of transphobia against Amanda Craig will mean that The Golden Rule also won’t make it through.
  • I REALLY hope that the inclusion of Dawn French’s Because of You was because one judge really wanted it to be there. If so, it should fall at this stage.
  • I’d of course love to see Consent, but I think it’s too Marmite. I imagine this was also one that a single judge really pushed for.
  • I suspect Avni Doshi’s Burnt Sugar has already had too much exposure. I also wonder if the judges will see Ali Smith as too much of a ‘big name’ to shortlist Summer.
  • I don’t know why I haven’t listed Cherie Jones’s How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House. That may have a chance of making it through.

Will I be reading the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist? This very much depends on what it looks like! If they manage to shortlist six books I haven’t read, then no. If there’s only one or two books I haven’t read, then yes. Anything in between will be considered on its merits!

What are your wishes and predictions for the shortlist?

EDIT 29/4/21: And the actual shortlist is…

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Just to show off a bit about a completely pointless achievement, this means that I got 5 out of 6 right, same as last year, only this time I didn’t read most of the longlist! (And I had a bit of a feeling about How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, the only title I didn’t predict, as you can see from my comments above). I also posted my list of predictions before reading anybody else’s, so I think my mindmeld with the spirit of the Women’s Prize is complete.

I also think that this is a good shortlist. Unlike previous judging panels, these judges haven’t clustered too closely around any one theme or idea. I’m thrilled to see Transcendent Kingdom and Piranesi, and although I would have liked to see Consent and Detransition, Baby, I’m not surprised that neither of them made it. I’m very relieved that Small Pleasures, Because of You and The Golden Rule are gone.

Will I read the whole shortlist? Probably, yes! I’ve only read three of the books so far, but the remaining three (Unsettled Ground, No-One Is Talking About This, How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House) are all novels that I’m happy to try. Therefore, I’ll withhold any winner predictions or wishes until I’ve read all six books.

 

14 thoughts on “Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist, 2021: Wishlist and Predictions

  1. Always so fun to see shortlist predictions! I am hoping to finish a couple more before the shortlist announcement which could change my current stance, but atm my thoughts are similar to yours- I am also predicting Transcendent Kingdom and The Vanishing Half advancing for sure, and have a strong feeling No One is Talking About This will make the cut too. I am also feeling good about Piranesi even though it seems a little out of character for the WP, and while I agree with your reasoning I’d love to be surprised and see Detransition Baby on the shortlist. I’m less willing to count out Summer at this point, I think. And personally I’d like to see Exciting Times advance rather than Luster so am hoping to manifest that just by wishing, haha.
    As long as Golden Rule doesn’t make it I’ll probably try to read the shortlist, though no matter how it turns out I’ll definitely carry on reading the longlisters that have already caught my eye, so the only difference the shortlist will make for me is if it can convince me to pick up one of the few I’ve not been initially interested in. We shall see!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m super early with this, but I read my 7 books and thought why not!

      Excluding Summer might be a bit optimistic on my part, tbf. I’m just not interested in Ali Smith’s seasons quartet although I have enjoyed her writing in the past. I’m excited for it to be over so she can write something else!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Our shortlist prediction is almost identical, just replace Unsettled Ground with Detransition, Baby! That would be so exciting if Consent pulled through but I agree, my hopes aren’t terribly high.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. 5 out of 6 is very impressive! I am for the most part really liking the shortlist but I won’t even attempt to read them all. For one thing, How the One-Armed Sister… does not appeal to me at all (I’m sure it’s great but I heard it’s relentlessly bleak and I don’t want to).
    I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the Lockwood, I am halfway through and bouncing off it hard and I usually like these kinds of fractured books featuring unlikable women.

    Liked by 1 person

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  5. Pingback: Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021: Final Thoughts | Laura Tisdall

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